Placard holders don't always 'look' disabled
IT would appear that Dieter Thate is not familiar with the Americans with Disabilities Act and Hawaii state law as it pertains to motor vehicle accommodations for the disabled ("Misuse of placards handicaps aloha spirit," Letters, Star-Bulletin, April 11
The purpose of the ADA is to provide certain accommodations to disabled people that will give them a near-quality of life to the nondisabled. The use of the disabled placards and the special license plates that Mr. Thate refers to fall into that category.
The placards and plates are issued only after proper doctor certification. These placards are issued to qualifying individuals, not to specific motor vehicles. Therefore, not every driver displaying a placard or special license is necessarily disabled or the "owner" of the item. However, to use the placard or license plate to park in a designated handicapped stall, the disabled person must be with the driver. So, when you see that person who appears to be walking normally and carrying bags, remember -- he or she might not be the placard holder. That person might be the passenger in the auto, or might still be in the place of business. Not everything is what it appears to be.
Another thing to note is that there is a specific set of criteria to qualify for a placard or special license plates. A person does not have to be overtly disabled to qualify (i.e., need crutches, cane, walker, wheelchair). They can be qualified by reason of disabilities for neurological, pulmonary, circulatory, oncological and other "covert" problems not readily apparent to the observer. And a doctor who falsely certifies medical eligibility is subject to a fine up to $10,000.
As far as the number of parking spaces is concerned, the rule in Hawaii is one disabled parking space for each 25 parking spaces on a given parking lot; the ratio is reduced for larger lots (for free-standing medical facilities such as clinics and hospitals, the percentage of disabled parking spaces is greater). Further, the first disabled parking space must accommodate access for a van having a wheelchair-assisted lift, and that means there must be a 96-inch-wide access aisle next to the parking space; the disabled parking space, however, is not for exclusive use of such configured vans. The spaces also are located as close as practical to the entrance of the building they service, since one criterion for getting a placard is "has difficulty walking 200 feet or more without requiring stopping to rest."
The Honolulu Police Department does enforce the disabled parking laws. In fact, it has a special Disabled Parking Enforcement unit whose officers are on the road daily and target only disabled-parking violators. Last year this unit issued 2,295 citations for disabled parking violations and retrieved more than 400 placards that were being improperly used by unqualified individuals. Penalties for violations of the disabled-parking laws run between $260 (for unauthorized parking) and mandatory court appearance (for fabrication or alteration of placards).
I feel certain that the Disability Communications and Action Board of the state Department of Health would be willing to have a representative speak at a scheduled local function, as would the Disabled Parking Enforcement Unit of the HPD Traffic Division. Give them a call for additional information.
Bernard Judson is a member of the Honolulu Police Department's Disabled Parking Enforcement unit. He lives in Kapolei.